(PLEASE NOTE: This is part two of the story. Part one is available here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bob-and-allegory-cave... )
There were dozens of them, some very old, all very odd looking. The ones that seemed youngest seemed the most alien, like a hairless gorilla painted by El Greco, only much taller. They had huge, limpid eyes that I was pretty sure were blind. They twitched and sniffed around. Their legs and - I assume - arms seemed dangerously thin, almost like pipe cleaners. The old ones were obviously human, though bent and gaunt, and with a strange aspect to them. The remaining ones were humanoid, but much too tall, with long, distorted faces. One of the hairless gorillas was singing quietly to itself, and stroking the hair on a tattered Raggedy Ann.
“Aliens!” shouted Tweedle-Dum, and one of the old ones shot at him. The aliens startled and brayed around nervously, but the old man had been a bad shot, and merely took off a big chunk of Dum’s helmet. Chastened, they hauled us out of the drink, tied us up, and debated what to do with us.
And debated and debated and debated and debated. It went on long enough that Dum and I both started getting bored.
“Since when do aliens speak English anyway?” Dum asked.
“Pretty much only in Science Fiction TV shows,” I said.
“What’s Science Fiction?” Dum asked.
Pretty much our lives are, I thought, but instead I spoke to our captors: “Excuse me, hi there, uhm…”
The oldest of them shouted “Silence, spy! You are caught!”
“Temp-” grunt “-orarily” Dum said.
“Wrong!” the old man shouted, then went to a fake-sounding low voice: “Permanently. You have failed! Do you think your friends on the freighter can help you now? Now,” he said to the guards, “Take him outside and get rid of him!”
Freighter? What the heck was he talking about?
Someone else said “But sir, aren‘t you going to question him?”
He held up my compy, my wrist-computer, and said “When we decode the plans, we will have all the answers we need. Do what you’re told, fool!”
The aliens - the hominids and the less-hominidish ones seemed upset by this, they brayed about uncomfortably, like nervous children on the edge of fear, or skittish horses.
A dozen old men and women with guns untied us and took us into the next cave, which, I guess, counted as “Outside” for the locals.
A way-too-tall scratchy-voiced old woman said “Name, Rank, and Serial Number.”
“Fine, my name is Robert Anthony Wilson; I’m a Captain in the Confederate States Space Force; uhm…we don’t have serial numbers. Why?”
“Silence! Prisoners may only tell their name, rank, and serial number. If you don’t tell us your serial number, we will torture you until you do.”
“Uhm…that’s not really how it works…” I said.
“Now are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to gouge your eyes out?”
“Oh, for gosh sakes…Fine,” I said, and rattled off the first numerical sequence that came into my head, “It’s 1.7724277136176809...” and on it went. One of them scribbled furiously with a pencil - a pencil! - trying to keep up. I said “It’s really easy to remember because it’s the square root of Pi. Now, If you can please tell me…”
“Kill them,” said the scratchy-voiced old giantess.
“That’s it. I’m completely sick of this. Dum, you’re supposed to be my bodyguard, right?”
“Yeah, boss,” he said.
“So guard my body.”
And so he did. Dum looked small compared to his late sidekick, Huge, but he was actually my size, and vastly more fit. His arms were like bricks. In the low gravity, he was superhero-strong. He abruptly lifted both of his arms - and the little old men who were holding on to them - and then clapped them together, instantly knocking the both of them out. As they fell slowly to the ground, he lept - almost flew - into a gaggle of gun wielding geriatrics, none of whom had time to even process what was happening. There was the loud sound of bones breaking, and I knew none of them were his. Bodies hurled through the air. The aliens - who’d followed us into the chamber - panicked and ran every which way. I heard shouts coming from the other cave.
I slapped the scratchy-voiced old woman out of the way, and felt her ribs crumple as I did. These people must have been here a long time to have osteoporosis this bad! A stocky-looking man took aim at Dum. I threw myself at him, and he went down, the gun going off as he fell. The shot hit one of the hominids, who fell to the ground in a heap, screaming. I’d assumed I’d just stunned the old coot, but as I took his pistol, I realized he was dead, my impact had killed him.
Several of the old people from the other cave were rushing in by now, and a few screamed “Billy” and ran to the stricken alien. The theatrical old coot who appeared to be in charge came in and pointed a sword - a sword! - at me. Seriously, who were these people!
“We will die before we let you defeat us you…” and there was some fairly standard profanity.
“Fine,” I said, and I pulled the trigger. Nothing happened! No bullets! Crap!
None of the people Dum had been fighting were resisting anymore, but before he could react to my situation the swordsman charged me. I simply whipped my empty pistol at him like a boomerang, and struck him in the chest, and down he went. Dum took the sword from him. “West Point,” he said, looking at the design
“Ok, now then,” I said, “Answers.”
I called my son up a day later. “I’m seriously thinking about staying. I’d like to meet somewhere and talk.” We met in a café in one of the hotels in the next dome over. Alternately I stammered and stared at him, unsure what to do.
“I haven’t been waiting for you all these years,” he said. “I would have liked to have met you when you were last here, and we were both about the same age, I dreamed about that as a kid, but, well, I got over it. I’ve got a good life.”
“Thank you,” I said. “What about your mom?”
“Her life was pretty good, too. Long. Helped out a lot of people. She was happy.”
“Did she ever…uhm…find anybody?”
“Nah. She wasn’t the ‘Love and Marriage’ kind. Much beloved, though. When she died, half the people in L5 came to her funeral. So anyway, you were talking about staying?”
I explained the whole situation with my once-and-hopefully-future love.
“I think it’s a mistake,” he said, “You’re chasing after shadows. There’s a dozen reasons why this literally star-crossed lovers thing won’t work, but even if it *does* work, it won’t work.”
“Come on, its Asia McFadden! She’s a hero! Every schoolkid knows about her, she’s a legend.”
“Yeah, well, I‘m kind of a legend,” I said defensively, “I got swallowed by a whale…and….stuff.”
“There’s a popular song about building a world out of dreams and then living as though it’s real.” he said, “Shadows. Old memories, and probably pretty warped ones at that. Let me ask you this: She gets here in ‘73, right? Do you think she’s going to stay here, or do you think she’s going to head off again in ‘74?”
I bristled. “I’ll go with her.”
“Does she want you to? I mean, she dumped you in the first place, right?”
I bristled some more at that, but I didn’t say anything.
I’m told that for years - decades - after World War II ended, there were Japanese soldiers living in the jungles of various remote islands, convinced the war was still going on. Sometimes they’d attack people. Mostly they just sat in the middle of nowhere fishing and eating rats and waiting for relief to come. People stumbled across them from time to time, and told them what had happened. How do you react to wasting a lifetime dedicated to a dream that has already passed? A dream that wasn’t all that wise to begin with? Some of them refused to believe it, felt it was a trick; some of them killed themselves; some accepted what they must have suspected all along; some had nervous breakdowns; others simply put down their antique weapons and vanished back into the jungles, to live out their remaining days in the same way they’d squandered the rest of their lives.
It turns out these people were kind of like that: Back during the war, earth had quickly realized it was losing badly. One faction of the American Government had feared we were going to exterminate all life on earth, and had backed a crazy plan called “New Genesis.” They’d loaded as many people and supplies as they could on piece-of-crap Titan, Delta, and Honda-Soyuz rockets, and sent them to the moon, in hopes of colonizing the place and laying low so we wouldn’t discover them. I had to take my helmet off to them, the scope of their madness impressed me. I mean, nobody had even been to the moon in sixty years when they tried to pull this off. Americans hadn’t even gone beyond low-earth-orbit in all that time! They didn’t even have a manned space program anymore, that having crapped out during the Obama administration back in the 2010s, and never having been revived. They launched fifty people before we blew up Kennedy Space Center from orbit. Twenty-five of them survived, the rest perishing from a zillion-and-one different things that could and did go wrong. We never noticed the capsules. We were busy with other things.
Many of those launched were pre-pubescent girls - breeding stock - who grew up on the moon, hence my way-too-tall would-be torturer.
This cave system by the old Apollo 11 landing site was obscure, known only to a few aging disciples of Al-Baz and Jack Schmitt. They’d hauled their landing craft and all their equipment inside, sealed the doors, and for fifty years they’d been inside, living small, frightened lives and having babies.
These were the hominids. Nature worked against them: human biology evolved in a one-gee environment. Higher or lower gravity is very hard on a human body, prolonged exposure is crippling. It was risky enough that no one had ever had or raised kids under such dangerous circumstances. Or so we thought.
“Some of them were able to learn to talk,” one of the old women told me, heartbreakingly. Presently the babies started having babies, and these were the El Greco naked apes, even more deformed and mentally impaired than their parents.
My son invited me up to Dead Sea Station, one of the newer Lagrange Colony stations. It was a Model Two O’Neil design, big mirrors, counter-rotating cylinders two miles wide and nearly half a mile in diameter. There were two hundred thousand people living inside, most of whom were spaceborn, most had never been to earth. He had a nice house there. I met my daughter in law and my grandkids, the oldest of whom was a good five years older than me. The future is weird.
I spent the weekend. I told my son I’d made my decision.
“We’d love to have you, there’s plenty of houses for sale within a block of here, but I still think it’s a mistake,” he said, “You’re throwing away everything you have.”
“I don’t *Have* anything,” I said, surprised by the tone of my own voice.
“Well, you‘re not going to get it that way. Look, dad, I‘ve been through this with my own kids when they were your age…”
We’d killed eight of them in the scuffle, and wounded sixteen more, including the hominids and non-hominids who got injured in the stampede. All these people had bones like chalk. Dum and I passed out medicine from our emergency kits, and fished the happy juicer out of the lagoon, but that didn’t go very far.
Now, how the heck were we gonna’ get out of here? My Compy couldn’t get a signal through all this rock. Two of our three space suits were ruined, so I couldn’t ferry people to the Moonbuggy, and even if we could, that was under sixty feet of ice. I schlogged through slush back to it just to grab a few supplies, and to see if I could get a signal on the communications gear, but no dice. We’d be overdue in a day or so, so they’d come looking for us, but if this place had gone unnoticed for five decades, I held out little hope that they’d find it now.
While musing over this, one of the too-tall old breeder woman said to me, “It was me that sent the messages.”
“In the pipe?” she said.
“Our initial supplies were pretty meager,” she said, “And even with recycling, water was running out pretty quickly. Eventually we found some water trickling from the rocks. We wouldn’t have survived without that. I was just a kid, but I knew there wasn’t any water on the moon. None of the others seemed interested. In between pregnancies, I tracked the trickle back to its source. It was a pipe.”
I was stunned!
“So you knew, all this time, that there were other people on the moon?”
“And you never told anyone about it?”
“You’ve seen them,” she said, “Back in those days it was just a bunch of Air Force fanatics and barely-teenaged girls. If I told them, what would they do? Refuse to use the water? Poison it to get back at you guys? They were all utterly convinced that we were the last earthlings alive, that you’d sterilized the world.”
“We…I…No! We never had any intention of it! I know, I was there!”
“How could you have been there? You’re too young.”
“Relativity,” I said, “I travel a lot. Seriously, though, the whole thing was over in six weeks.”
She cried for a long time at that. Who can blame her? If she’d run away from home for a month, or even been lucky enough to have a cold, she could have missed all this and had a normal life.
Presently she calmed down. “So anyway,” she said, “There was a valve. Once a year or so, I’d shut off the water. They’d shipped up a crate of beer with us for some reason. I’d open up the pipe, take one of the empties, stick a note in it, stick it in the pipe, close the pipe, open up the valve…”
“…and hope someone would notice it,” I finished.
“And someone finally did!” she said, excited.
“Yes,” I lied, “I found one of your messages, and came looking. You’ve saved them, Tina, you’ve saved all of them.”
She beamed at me, a smile that was probably a lifetime coming.
“So show me this pipe,” I asked.
Back in my hotel room on the moon, I wrote up my letter of resignation. To my surprise, these were still done in ink an pen for ceremonial reasons. My happiness was contingent upon hers.
Using their old mining equipment, it was a simple matter to blast a hole through the cave wall. We walked through, into the light, terrifying some picnickers, first from the bang, then from us, then from the hominids and not-quite-hominids. They ran off screaming.
“Now we see as though through a glass darkly,” Dum said, surprising me, “But then we shall see face to face.”
I linked in on my compy, and explained the situation to they Colonel Yu’s office, then to the cops when they showed, then to colonel Yu’s secretary, then to the paramedics when they showed, then to colonel Yu’s housekeeper, then to the reporters when they showed, then to colonel Yu himself, when he woke up. The next day, Colonel Yu found himself cashiered out of the service. Go figure.
I lied to the reporters, telling a story that was more in line with Tina’s expectations than my own frustrated reality. A few days later, someone from the hydrology office told me that antique Corona bottles had been found clogging up the pumps for years, but they’d been written off as a practical joke. No one ever bothered to check them out. He showed me the crate. Poking through them, I found the one with the most recent date, and offered it as proof.
Yes, it was a lie, but I will personally and painfully murder anyone who dares tell her the truth.
I was back on the CSS Bahman. I’d resigned before, I knew how this worked. Hat under my left arm, resignation note in my right I marched towards Colonel Evan’s office with a steady, determined pace.
But what if her happiness isn’t contingent upon mine? I suddenly thought. My pace faltered a bit. No, no, no, I thought, I’ve made up my mind. She can stay with me or leave me again three years from now, but I’ve got to try. My pace quickened again. She’d hate this, you idiot, I thought, not knowing why. Do you have any idea how miserable it would make her, you pulling a stunt like this? My pace faltered again. Stop daydreaming, think: If she stayed, it would be out of guilt…no, no, no. I stopped in the middle of the corridor. No, no, no, I grimaced. You know how obliged this would make her feel? I started forward again, walking briskly. I saw the door up ahead that clearly read “Colonel Abungu Evans.” I marched right up to it, and then, without slowing, I marched away from it again.
If my happiness is contingent upon hers, I postulated, then her happiness is contingent upon me hiding my unhappiness from her.
I caught the next ferry back to the moon. In my hotel room, I recorded a message.
The United States denied any knowledge of Project New Genesis, and they may even have been telling the truth about it. It was a long time ago - for them - things get lost. Some things are deliberately hidden. It’s not like they could do anything about it - none of these frail people could ever go back to earth, they wouldn’t have survived the trip.
They were adopted as wards of the Spacefaring League. We would provide for them and take care of them, and their offspring for the remainder of their lives. And thus, 110 years after the final Apollo mission, the moon’s first real residents finally came out into the sun.
Huge was given a funeral with full honors. He was buried just three blocks down, and one over from Emily. As to the people Dum and I had inadvertently killed in our escape, the League decided to turn a blind eye to the fact that they were technically enemy combatants, and mostly insane at that. They were buried with full military honors, on the side of Tranquility opposite our own war dead. I still haven’t decided if I like that or not. I lost a lot of friends in that war, and I guess I lost the person who functioned as my heart as well.
Ah well. Enough torches. Enough unrealistic shadows.
I was at the last of these funerals, my son on one side of me, Tina on the other. I leaned over, closer to him, my face near his ear.
“Hey, Luther,” I said, “I’m going back to Tau Ceti. You wanna’ go with me?”
“Hi, Asia! It’s me, Bob!,” I said in a fake voice that I hoped would seem really cheerful, “I’m recording this on Friday, May 29th, 2082. If you followed your schedule for once, then you’re probably getting this message in June or July of 2073, maybe a bit later since you’ve always been terrible about checking your Email. There’s a lot of crazy stuff I’ve been up to since last we met, so I figured I should leave you a message to tell you my side of things before you hear it from strangers in the playground, or whatever.” I laughed. Surprisingly, it was a real laugh, “Before we get started, though, I’ve got some bad news and, well, I wanted you to hear it from me: I’m not in love with you anymore…”
Yes, it was a lie, but I will personally and painfully murder anyone who dares tell her the truth.
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